INDIANAPOLIS -- Following a week involving numerous people arrested in different cases throughout Central Indiana for child pornography, molestation, and exploitation, Call 6 Investigates found new numbers showing a disturbing trend.
Child abuse and neglect reports are on the rise, records show.
CHINS (Child in Need of Services) cases, which often involve cases of child abuse and neglect, were up statewide in January 2017, compared to January 2016.
In January 2017, the Department of Child Services saw 23,120 cases statewide, a 15% increase from January 2016 in which the state had 20,144 CHINS cases.
Marion County also saw an increase from 4,529 CHINS cases in January 2016 to 5,050 CHINS cases in January 2017.
A recent report also found DCS is finding more adults responsible for abusing and neglecting Hoosier children.
Tracy McDaniel, the founder of Restored, a group that helps victims of sexual exploitation, said child exploitation is on the rise, and people are reporting it more as well.
“I think we’re identifying it a lot better,” said McDaniel.
McDaniel said thanks to a new law, victims of human trafficking are automatically considered a CHINS case.
McDaniel said a huge reason for the increase in child exploitation is because of easily accessible technology and social media.
“Kids that I’m working with are being groomed off of Facebook and Instagram messenger, and they have multiple accounts that their parents don’t know about,” said McDaniel. “Anyone can be exploited, and anyone can be trafficked. Your child can be in their bedroom, and they’re doing homework, and someone is messaging them.”
McDaniel said a lot of children might not realize who they’re really talking to.
“Let’s say ‘Holly’ sends a message, but ‘Holly’ is really a 40-year-old man trying to prey on your child,” said McDaniel.
McDaniel said young girls with low self-esteem are especially vulnerable.
“A lot of times they think their body is their worth,” said McDaniel. “These perpetrators are great kid psychologists, and they’re telling them exactly what they want to hear to meet them.”
Prevent Child Abuse Indiana Programs Director Sandy Runkle said while children may be targeted by strangers, it’s typically someone the family knows.
“They may be trying to form a relationship with an adult member of the family so they can have access to the children, and there’s a lot of that going on,” said Runkle. “You do have situations where the perpetrator says ‘hey,
I’m 30 years old.’ Some children can be easily manipulated.”
Runkle said the silver lining is that people are speaking up more and more about suspected child abuse and neglect.
“I think people are reporting more because there’s more education, more awareness,” said Runkle.
Runkle said authorities should call child pornography “sexual abuse images.”
“We prefer the term sexual abuse images because that’s what’s really happening and that’s what is being depicted,” said Runkle.
TIPS FOR PARENTS:
- Start talking to your children early about their bodies
- Call your child’s body parts by the proper names
- Get to know your child’s friends and their parents
- Set rules and boundaries regarding devices and social media
- Regularly check your child’s devices and social media accounts
- Encourage your children NOT to give out personal information or to wear personally identifiable clothing (such as name of school) in social media posts
- To report child abuse or neglect, call the Indiana Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-800-800-5556